This is NOT one of my etchings. It is one of many prints of landscape etchings that my parents have hanging around their place. I’ve grown up with these, but never really looked at them closely — although the thought occurs to me now that they must have seeped into my subconscious during my childhood and possibly triggered my latent urban sketching habit. Now that I’m etching myself, I’ve been taking a good look at my parents’ collection of etchings. Click on the image to see it close-up. This particular etching looks like drypoint to me (when you scratch directly into the copper, without treating the copperplate with what’s called “hard ground” first), especially in the dark foreground area where the lines get a bit fuzzy. And another sign of drypoint is the ability to get grey-toned lines by scratching into the place a bit more lightly. The grey lines create the atmospheric, receding effect in the background landscape.
Learning about the process of copper etching from Peter Braune at New Leaf Editions has been a revelation. I now have some favourite habits and tools. I have also found (despite Peter’s snarky comments) that my digital gadget addiction comes in handy, as I have been using some of the drawing apps on my iPad (mainly ProCreate, and to some extent Photoshop, Brushes and Paper) to create working sketches, then combining sketches and my own photographs of a scene in different layers, then reversing the whole image, and referring to it as I am drawing on the copper plate.
At first I thought we would somehow transfer my drawings to copper by some kind of scan-and-phototransfer process. That is technically possible, but Peter said I should etch. From scratch. (Getting artists to etch is one of Peter’s great accomplishments — he works with well-known, established Canadian artists like Gordon Smith, Attila Richard Lukacs, Angela Grossman, Derek Root, and First Nations artists like Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and Tim Pitsiulak. Some of these famous artists pop by his studio and I am awe-struck. But I simply pretend that I belong there too.)
Then I assumed I was just going to do some very finished drawings in my sketchbook, the way I normally do them, and “copy” them over to the copperplate manually. But as soon as I started etching, I figured out that this method was neither interesting (for obvious reasons) nor practical (since etching on a copper plate with a sharp tool is a completely different medium than drawing on paper with an ink pen).
So I developed a process that works for me. I plan to show a concrete example of these stages in a couple of months when this etching project is done:
1. I do quick sketches on location to develop a composition based on what my eye sees, not my camera, and also take reference photographs which help me fill in detail later.
2. I spend some quality time on my iPad, combining sketches and photos with the help of layers and opacity, usually in ProCreate, to get a bit closer to a draft. Then I reverse the whole image, since anything you draw on copper will be printed in reverse at the end. I want the scenes of Vancouver to be recognizable so my etching has to be the mirror image. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember that; I’ve had to start a couple of etchings over.
3. Then I go to the copper plate with just enough fear of screwing things up to make it exciting. Here I continue to tweak the composition to make it more dramatic, and then add detail from several different photos, referring to the draft on my iPad.
During the etching process itself, there are many different techniques, tools, and proofing stages for creating effects or making corrections. I won’t go into those now. But in the creative stage, I love having both digital and traditional tools at my disposal. And the best thing is, I am not copying, the art develops right on the copper plate as I’m etching it, so that is the only place where the drawing exists.
You can learn almost anything if you are motivated enough. Case in point: I have awesome negroni-mixing skills.